Get Ready To Rock Some Chip Tunes

January 2017 Column, Feature Trevor Mason

What is the point of putting a chip in your truck? I’m not talking about poker or tortilla chips (though that sounds like the start to a good party). If you’re new to the diesel scene, you’ve probably heard some variant of, “My truck is chipped” or “I’ve got a chip in my truck.” So what exactly is a “chip”?

Factory chips contain something called a “lookup table” (any of you Excel users out there already know where this is going). This table contains data that tells the vehicle how to respond to certain actions. For example, if you’re on the highway and hit the gas to get around a Utah roadblock (ask your friends what that is), the chip tells your truck how much fuel to send, how soon to shift, and so on. As with anything stock, the factory chip is set to factory standards, obviously, which are probably weaker than what you really want out of your truck. Therefore, a performance chip is what you’re after, since it changes the lookup table to be more in line with a high-performance vehicle.

While it sounds like a chip is literally a little microchip that you plug into your truck, it’s…not really that at all. That used to be the case back in the 80s and 90s. Originally, PROM (programmable read-only memory) chips were plugged into the vehicle. These chips were single-use and could not be reprogrammed, so to change any settings, you really did have to physically pull out the old one and slot in a new one. Nowadays, these chips are long since obsolete, and have been replaced by performance tuners that (usually) plug into that slot under the dashboard to the left of your steering wheel. So, “chip” is just an anachronistic term that people still use to refer to their tuner.

With that out of the way, why do you want a tuner? Like I mentioned above, an aftermarket performance tuner changes the data that your vehicle looks at when you perform pretty much any action while driving. So your speed, power, and torque will all see a jump once you’ve got a tuner installed. Just how much of a jump is variable, since modern tuners are customizable and most will offer multiple profiles that you can turn on and off at will to suit whatever your current situation demands.

Companies like Bully Dog, Edge, and Smarty Tuner have a variety of performance tuners on the market with various features, so do a little digging to see which one is going to give you what you want. Some of the things your tuner can do for you include, but are not limited to: correct the speedometer if you’ve changed either the gear ratio or your tire size; monitor the temperature of your coolant, transmission and oil; change your transmission shift points by setting the RPMs at which it will shift gears; and adjust how much fuel is injected into the engine.

As you can see, there’s a whole lot that a tuner can do for you, especially if you’re going to be doing any racing or towing (or both!). You do need to be aware that, like anything good or awesome in life, there are some drawbacks. Pretty much any performance tune is going to make you take a hit on your MPG. That’s pretty much a given. Along with the reduction in fuel economy, you may be increasing your emissions to a point that you don’t pass inspection the next time. Not only that, but since you’re changing the way your engine performs (usually in the MORE POWER direction) you’re going to put more wear on it than you otherwise would, so things are going to wear out faster. Also, depending on what you have to do to install the tuner—they’re not all plug-and-play—you could void your warranty. In some cases, having a tuner installed could increase your insurance premiums, so watch out.

But! None of that matters, because now you’ve unlocked your truck’s true potential. Just think of it as your own personal Pandora’s box. (Wait a second…)

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